For almost 800 years it was one of the busiest and most happening parts of the sub-continent, attracting traders, craftsmen and migrants from different areas. Lothal, the once vibrant port and hub – and developed on Vaastu principles – is likely to see a revival with the government planning a maritime university and a museum
WORDS: N.B. RAO
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2017 in Hyderabad recently, he made a specific reference to Lothal.
“Ancient India’s expertise in metallurgy is also well known,” he said. “Our many ports and harbours and the world’s oldest dockyard at Lothal bear evidence to vibrant trade linkages. The tales of Indian voyagers travelling to foreign lands reflect the entrepreneurial character and spirit of our forefathers.”
Lothal has been in the news of late especially with Modi declaring that the government plans to set up a maritime university and museum in the city, located in Dholka taluka in Ahmedabad district.
The Harappan port-town is located along the Bhogava, a tributary of the Sabarmati in the Gulf of Khambat. Interestingly, Lothal is considered to be the only port-town of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
THRIVING HARAPPAN CULTURE
There is evidence at the site of the Harappan culture thriving between 2400 BC and 1600 BC. It was a town of less than 10 hectares and its peripheral walls were designed to withstand tidal floods, which ultimately had a calamitous impact on it and resulted in its virtual disappearance.
Lothal’s prominence in the modern era emerged in 1954 when prominent archaeologist Shikaripura Ranganatha Rao (1922-2013) – who was with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) – led a research team to the place and did excavations in and around the ancient site.
Along with other ASI team members, he did extensive surveys for a decade and discovered that the city had two phases – one belonging to the mature Harappa culture and the second a decade stage later on.
The archaeologists felt that Lothal might also have been the intermediary station for the import of various precious stones and shells to the Indus Valley including gold from Kolar, semi-precious stones from the Deccan plateau and shells from the western coast.
While the affluent residents lived in the upper part of the town, the lower part housed craftsmen including coppersmiths and goldsmiths, shell-workers and bead-makers.
In the early days, it was a thriving port town and archaeologists also believe it had a dockyard. Satellite images indicate that the now dried river channel brought in adequate quantities of water in the past, ensuring a vibrant mercantile trade including to the Persian Gulf region.
Interestingly, planners of the early city were well-versed with Vaastu techniques and had planned their city on its basis. This is reflected in the original planning, which took into consideration south-north orientation.
The water-body and the nearby port were on the east. The builders also gave prominence to the construction of a dockyard and a warehouse to ensure robust trade. It was built far from the main river to avoid silting.
The artificial dock, one of the earliest known in the world, is considered to be one the most outstanding for that point of time.
The entire city was built on a grid format and featured wide roads, and sun-dried brick houses. Lothal also had a well-designed drainage and underground water supply system.
The city was divided into half a dozen sections, each with a wide platform of earthen bricks. Historians and archaeologists confirm that Lothal was a vibrant trading hub with trade links to not just other parts of the Indian sub-continent, but even to West Asia and Africa.
The city drew Harappans because of its sheltered and natural harbour, excellent cotton and rice and the bead-making business. There was huge demand in the world for beads and gems from Lothal and traders thrived in that environment.
Unfortunately, despite the rapid development, massive flooding that occurred all the time, spelt disaster for the city. One of the worst floods destroyed it and resulted in it being abandoned for centuries.